Today as I clean house, I reflect on a tradition I think all young people are at some point accosted by; I speak, of course, of meeting with one’s relatives. Not for the first time, I will be put on a stand for my parents to talk about (and believe me, that speech will be brief indeed), and then taken off while my cousins are paraded around with notes about their good fortune and their good taste. This will happen tomorrow.

I have always tried to avoid these get-togethers. Not because I dislike my family; I love seeing them and talking to them as normal people would talk, but I always need an escape route before the eternal question of “What are you doing with your life” comes to their lips. It will, inevitably. It should be considered scientific fact. Put family members in a room together and eventually they will start asking one another questions about college, about jobs. About financial security. About your choice of partner. When I was younger (read: when I was in high school), I developed the goth-wardrobe-defense-mechanism. I wore black, entirely, to all family gatherings I did not wish to attend or be pestered during. This way, people would remark more to me about what I was wearing than to ask me how I was getting along. Either that, or I would be avoided entirely, and free to read in a corner or play the piano. Now, these relatives did not know that I never wore these clothes out of the house except when I was to see them. It almost became an acting exercise in restraining the smile and speaking in monotone. I bought the clothes from Hot Topic and hung them in my closet expectantly for the days in which my mother would tell me we were off to Wisconsin or downstate. I lamented the fact that this deprived me of their company entirely, so the clothing was sent to Goodwill. May some soul in my position find it and use it well.

I still have defense mechanisms, though they are more carefully employed. I always bake something, so that their comments may be directed towards the item they are eating and not myself. On days that I am to visit them, I make excuses almost immediately upon arrival that I cannot stay long. Previous engagement and all that, you know. Primp yourself up, waggle those well-manicured fingers and be so grateful when they buy the story.

It becomes much harder when your relatives visit you. Cleaning beforehand; cleaning afterward; the necessity of staying so that they *have someone to talk to*. What is a young girl to do when the questions about school (“Yeah, still working towards that Associate degree”) or plans (“No, I don’t really know what I want to do, but it’s great that your daughter got a full ride to university and is getting a job that pays $100,000 a year. I’m broke.”) come bursting forth? I realize these people are supposed to love me unconditionally, but it feels an awful lot like being run through the ringer and coming out badly bruised and beaten. I don’t know how my parents take it. Do they feel my mental illnesses and screw-ups are a reflection of their parenting in the eyes of our uncles and aunts? I feel guilty for them, because my messes are not their fault. Why can’t family just meet together and break bread without all these questions about life? Why is saying “I am getting along well, thank you” never enough?

But while I clean today in prep for their arrival, I am happy to be reminded of one fact.

I have to work ALL DAY tomorrow.

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It is ridiculous to me that people still ask one another, “Oh, you read?” with an intonation as if they are asking one another if they know the most intricate rules of croquet. The question shouldn’t even have to be asked. Everyone who is able to read should be reading. Either that, or everyone should go around asking questions like “Oh, you like to eat?” or “Ah, I see you enjoy breathing!”.

above: an idiot